They may be Test selection rivals for the Lions’ number nine shirt but Ali Price has praised Conor Murray for the confidence his support gave him in last Saturday’s series-opening win over the Springboks.
Starter Price and replacement Murray provided a perfect tandem at scrum-half for Warren Gatland in the come-from-behind 22-17 first Test victory over South Africa at Cape Town Stadium at the weekend, with the Munster and Ireland star putting his disappointment at not starting to one side and coming off the bench to help steer the British & Irish Lions home and draw first blood against the world champions.
The Scot and the Irishman will vie once again for Test selection this morning when head coach Gatland names his team for this Saturday’s second Test.
For all the impressive displays last Saturday behind Maro Itoje’s man-of-the-match performance, from Jack Conan, Courtney Lawes, and Robbie Henshaw in particular, there is the impression that Elliot Daly’s place at outside centre could be under threat from Scotland’s Chris Harris. There are also injury concerns lingering over the Lions’ selection at loosehead prop with Alan Wyn Jones doubtful with the minor shoulder injury that forced his withdrawal from the starting line-up last weekend and also at fly-half with Dan Biggar having left the field in the second half for a Head Injury Assessment, having kicked three crucial second-half penalties and a conversion in his 14-point haul to overcome a 12-3 half-time deficit.
Biggar will be unable to take contact in training until Thursday if he progresses through his HIA return-to-play protocols in good order, opening up the possibility of a start for Owen Farrell, who came off the bench and kicked the final penalty of the game to secure the Lions’ famous victory. There is also an added option at fly-half following Finn Russell’s return to training yesterday following a small tear in his Achilles tendon almost three weeks ago.
Yet all three scrum-halves, Price, Murray, and Gareth Davies, are fit and healthy and the question in last night’s selection meeting was whether to stick with the starters and an impactful bench that got the job done or mix things up in anticipation of a tougher assignment this time around, with the Springboks fighting to stay alive in the series.
Whoever gets the number nine shirt, Price says Murray’s influence on his own stellar tour to date has been as meaningful as the three-tour veteran’s stint off the bench.
“It’s been brilliant,” Price said yesterday. “Me, Conor, and Gareth have got on really well through the tour, helping each other after training.
“We’ll do our kicking together or a passing session. When the team got announced last week before the first Test, Conor was the first to come and say ‘well done, mate’. When we got on the bus Gareth was the same, shook my hand and said ‘well done’.
“We’re helping each other, Conor’s got that experience and when I came in at half-time he was first there saying ‘you’ve gone well’. That gives you so much confidence when you hear that from a guy who has been there, and you know he was on the last Lions tour, and that’s all good to hear.
“It’s been really enjoyable and we’ve all fed off each other. At the same time, it’s friendly and we’re going for the same shirt. Once that’s been decided, we’re all backing the guy that’s going out there and playing.”
Defence coach Steve Tandy confirmed Price’s description of the scrum-half trio and heaped praise on the Scot.
“He’s confident, he’s a great human being and a really good pro,” Tandy said of Price.
“Having Conor and Gareth around as well, you see how they work off each other, coming into a Lions trip you see different skillsets for different people, and that’s the beauty — they connect really well, and also you adapt. Being around the Lions, the standard is quality. You pick up bits and pieces from others, but Ali has done really well as have the other two nines. It’s just making sure we build on these performances.”